Apocalypticism


From my friend Pete Rollins. I wish I could write parables like this.

Actual site and info on Pete’s work and current Insurrection project here.

Discuss.

Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at a designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

“The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

“Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

“It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to serve the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant”.

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

Many of you may well have received an email that reputedly originated with Dr. John Tisdale, a popular biblical interpreter, that “interprets” Revelation 13 in such a way as to equate Barack Obama with the Beast of the Last Days/End Times. There’s not really any shortage of critical debunking of this foolishness, but since it’s come up again, and since some of my buds are actually using this whole situation as an example in a book they’re writing on the way religion is used and abused in this country, I need to take aim not only at “Tisdale’s” initial email, but at the reactions to it as well.

At the risk of perpetuating the myth, here is the email:

From: —
Subject: interesting
To: —
Date: Monday, October 20, 2008, 10:53 AM

If any of you are Obama supporters — this is not meant to offend just thought it was interesting. 🙂

Subject: Fw: Rev. 13- (about the beast)

This will make you re-think: A Trivia question in Sunday School:
How long is the beast allowed to have authority in Revelations?
Revelations Chapter 13 tells us it is 42 months, and you know what that is.
Almost a four-year term of a Presidency.
All I can say is ‘Lord, Have mercy on us!’
According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will
be a man, in his 40’s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with
persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal….the prophecy says
that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace,
and when he is in power, will destroy everything..
Do we recognize this description??
I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to post this as many times as
you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet..do it!
I refuse to take a chance on this unknown candidate who came out of nowhere.
From: Dr. John Tisdale
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Dear Friends,
As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride. . .’we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . . .’ As with so many other statements I’ve heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I’d see the day that I’d hear something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation–and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be.
I hope that each of you will do what I’m doing now–send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God’s help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are, indeed, still a Christian nation!
Please pray for our nation!

Ok. First off, there is a problem of perception that one of my friends has dubbed “apocalyptic narcissism,” as good a term as any for the idea that every generation of Christianity, including the first century of the New Testament and the events it describes, has believed that it is the one that will experience the events of the last days and the return of Christ. In fact, I’ve seen it now a couple of times in my life time, and I’m only 35 years old. No doubt I’ll see it a few more times, God willing I live long enough.

Here’s the point. Revelation is a prophetic book in the Jewish sense that it speaks to the current situation by use of metaphor and hyperbole. It is not a book that foretells the future, “prophecy” in the Christian sense. It is, however, a blistering critique of empire in the tradition of the prophetic “oracles against the nations.” If Revelation foretells anything, it is what “empire” always has coming, which is ultimately collapse and usually replacement. Revelation is better understood as a kind of psychedelic, Jack Kerouac-ian vision of the author’s present, which was around 90-100 AD/CE.

More importantly for Barack, though, is this business about the anti-Christ being in his 40’s and of Muslim descent and who will deceive the nations with smooth-talking. First of all, there’s nothing in Revelation that the anti-christ has to be in his 40’s. Secondly, Revelation does not predict Islam, let alone a Muslim anti-Christ. All of my studentsknow that Revelatio, as a text describing the end of the first century realities of early Christians, predates Islam by over 500 years. Islam is nowhere predicted in the Bible, although many Muslims hold that Muhammad is anticipated in the gospel of John (where the “spirit,” pneuma in Greek, is translated as “‘ahmad” in Arabic). the point is that there is no evidence at all in any book of the Bible that the Anti Christ will be a Muslim. Frankly, it angers me that this myth is gaining more and more steam, it seems. It needs to be debunked, and fast. There have been many anti-christs in western history, and I would venture to say that most of them have claimed to be Christian.

Here’s another point. I actually provided the link from which the initial respondant commented on about Barack “proudly” commenting that we are no longer a “Christian nation” in a blog earlier in the summer. As i tell my students, the country was never founded as a Christian nation. And whatever Christian principles influenced the Deist founders of the US were there, they were not the same discursive points of contemporary American evangelicalism, which is what this email assumes. Evangelicals may presume that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, a point that may well be the, but they also seem to have an assumption that Christianity is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, which is most definitely NOT the case. In any event, this quote actually misquotes (deliberately, probably) Barack in the Call to Renewal speech. I don’t know where the emailer gets the idea that Barack is “proud” of this. But Obama actually said that we are not only a Christian nation. This changes the meaning completely, and he is exactly right. In the 1700s, insofar as people were religiously diverse at all, it was all a variation of Christianity; Puritan, Catholic, Church of England, and so on. Obama’s point is that this is no longer the case, and in fact has not been the case for a long time. Read the actual speech for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

As another colleague of mine points out, concerning the idea of the US having any kind of official religion (which, Constitutionally, we do not), the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli expressly prohibits acts of hostility between the US and any Muslim nation. Note the first clause here:

“”Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

1797. Think about that. The Founding Fathers, who supposedly established a Christian nation, were still in the halls of Congress.

Barack Obama is not the Beast, he is not the Anti-Christ, and he is not the fulfillment of any biblical prophecy whatsoever.

To those of us who are a) frustrated with the realization that we double the value of our cars everytime we fill it up at the pump, or b) feel like telling the world “told you so” over the first option, and c) both of the above, I give you Wendell Berry’s latest essay.

I’m consistently amazed by Berry’s knack for finding parallels to the crises we find ourselves in today in the canon of world literature; in this case, he compares our burning passion for preserving the AWOL (my term for “American Way Of Life”) at all costs with the desire for unlimited power and knowledge of Faust. We the people are Faust; Mephistopheles is the guardian of the AWOL; and concerning Hell,

When Faustus asks, “How comes it then that thou art out of hell?” Mephistophilis replies, “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.” And a few pages later he explains:

Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, but where we [the damned] are is hell,
And where hell is must we ever be.

For those who reject heaven, hell is everywhere, and thus is limitless. For them, even the thought of heaven is hell.

I leave it to you to finish the analogy.

armageddon3.jpgStdogbert alerted me to this little piece from Reuters earlier in the afternoon and suggested that it might be blogworthy. Yep, sure is; any time an American President gets involved with trying to bring peace to the Middle East via a resolution to the Israel-Palestine contest, there’s going to be something to talk, write, read, or blog about.

This sudden interest by Bush in the Middle East peace process is remarkable. Obviously, every President has had an interest in it and they all have been involved to varying degrees, but given the circumstances going on in Iraq (and perhaps Iran in the disturbingly-near future), for Bush to start pandering peace, especially by appealing to Jesus’ beatitude to being peacemakers, when he has so much blood on his hands in the region is hypocritical and disingenuous, or just plain clueless. (My guess is it’s the last.) What fascinates me, however, is how an evangelical President like Bush is going against the old grain with this little peace-making visit. Whatever else the Bush Presidency may be remembered as, I certainly will not-so-fondly remember it as the Presidency who tried to help God out in bringing in the so-called “End Times.” I don’t think any other President has done more that, at least on the surface of things, seems to speed up the timetable to Armageddon in the Bob Hagee-an, Jack van Impe-an, Hal Lindsey-an sense.

Not too long ago, during a call for congregational prayer requests, a fellow in our church asked the pastor and church to pray for peace in the Middle East. The pastor took the opportunity to give a little mini-sermon/lecture that reflects the dispensationalist, Jack van Impean form of End Times politics. His response was something to the effect of “Well, I’m not sure that we can really do that, [name], because the Bible tells us that there will not be peace in the Middle East until the Lord Jesus returns. No matter how many Presidents, ambassadors, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and humanitarians argue for peace and work for peace, it’s just not going to happen until then, and so I think that anything we do that tries to make peace there is just getting in God’s way. But I’ll pray for Jesus’ return and that he comes soon so that we can have peace in Israel soon.” Many evangelicals, particularly those reared and raised and under the continued influence of more traditional, 1950s-60s evangelicalism, and practically all self-proclaimed fundamentalists would agree with the pastor’s assessment here. Not too many “new” or “younger evangelicals” would, however.

Probably not surprisingly, I don’t agree with this at all, because this is not what the Bible says. But that’s not the point here. The point is that Bush’s visit looks like he’s breaking rank with the older mainstream evangelical tradition he has sought to uphold as his standard for his Presidency. Just for once, for whatever motives, he is appealing to the Christian beatitude of peacableness as represented by Jesus rather than the imperialized and horrific vision of the Revelation. I have to give him credit for this.

If Bush’s effort here is doomed to fail, as I think it is, it’s not because it’s foretold in the Scriptures that it will, but that it’s just too hard of a sell. It’s because Middle East leaders can’t trust him, or the US in general, and that is simply because the track record of US involvement in this part of the world isn’t exactly worthy of trust. For that, we can’t blame the Bible, but only those who think they are doing what it says God wants them to do.

http://img.timeinc.net/southern/events/news/images/ThanksgivingFeast.jpgThis time of the year evokes a lot of emotions and feelings within us. For some of us there is a sense of nostalgia for being close to family. For others, we might feel the almost magical warmth of Christmas events and the coming of the New Year. For others, we start feeling the excitement of the beginning of college hoops, football bowl games, the merciful end of the Orange’s football season, and so on. We feel the closing of once cycle and the new beginnings of another with the annual celebration of Harvesting and of sharing the abundance that God has given us with others, as in Thanksgiving meals and the giving of gifts during Christmas. With this time of year, one season of our lives comes to a close, and another begins.

We celebrate Thanksgiving this week, and with the Thanksgiving season we also enter a few others as well. We enter, for example, the Christmas season; I would imagine that, if you’re like me and my family, you’ll be starting to decorate your house, pull out the greenery, and finally succumb to turning your radio dial to Sunny 102.5 for non-stop, 24/7 Christmas and holiday music.

Related to this is, of course, the “holiday shopping” season, which in reality starts now around Columbus Day rather than Black Friday. And it is fitting that, with this being a seasonal crossing between the old and the new, the Holiday Shopping season participates in this cycle in that there is no other time of year when we are in the full-fledged mode of “Out with the old, and in with the new!” With the Holiday Shopping season, we are absolutely bombarded with advertising assuring us that we really do need NEW and IMPROVED! “this-that-and-the-other-thing.” We’re sucked into the idea that we have to have to get rid of something that might be perfectly good and replace it with a new item. The whole season can awaken the cynic in us that not only starts questioning whether our new and improved lives and gadgets are really any better than we had it a year ago. The omnipresence of advertising and of commercial icons (Nike “swoosh,” Coke, Pepsi, etc) dulls our ability to recognize that which is truly new from the simply repackaged, and when the truly new does finally arrive, we often fail to recognize it, and be thankful and grateful for it. We would feel much better, I think, if the truly new would really advertise itself as such in such a way to shock us into recognizing it, so that we CAN respond appropriately with blessing and thanksgiving.

We’re in luck. Today’s lections from Isaiah and Luke, in particular, give us God’s advertising, and they are so counter-cultural and contrary to our most deeply-seeded common sense that we find it hard to take them seriously. The evangelist reports Jesus’ apocalyptic words in Luke 21 to us on the pretext of prophesying the destruction of the Jewish Temple; he uses vivid imagery the does not, in fact, describe anything in a satisfying, “feel-good” way. Unless we have an apocalyptic fetish, neither should we think of any of these images as anything to look forward to; certainly the earliest Christians did not.

What I want to suggest here is that, far from advertising anything “new,” no matter how bleak and destructive, Jesus here is advertising in no uncertain terms the eternal state of affairs in the world. Really, how can “wars and insurrections,” “nations rising against nations,” empires taking arms against empires, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and other “dreadful signs” from heaven be advertising anything new? Are arrests and persecutions and betrayals of Christians for religious or political reasons anything new?

Advertisements specialize in imagery and depend on our familiarity with their logos, slogans, and products in order to have any effect. In this they function like icons and have tremendous staying power. In Luke today, Jesus employs the truth of these icons to advertise for all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the way the world is today. He refuses to sugarcoat the first century, much like the ancient prophets refused to sugarcoat the state of the world in which Israel and God’s called ones found themselves in. As prophecy from the mouth of Jesus and in the context of his pronouncements on the Kingdom of God, Luke’s description of the world carries the force of the “always already” and “to come” at the same time.

So much for one kind of God’s advertising; small wonder that these things would either be glorified out of all proportion to the rest of Christ’s and the Prophets’ discourses on the Kingdom of God, or these messages are systematically and institutionally suppressed or ignored out of not wanting to appear offensive or pessimistic about the state of the world (this, of course, is the classic liberal, “progressive” heritage). But I should like to remind us all that this is not at all the only advertisement we find; instead, I want to remind us that this season of the old coming to a close and the new day dawning, both in commercial Christmas and Thanksgiving, the season of Advent is even now on our doorstep waiting to disrupt the state of the everyday.

What advertisements do we have to represent and “sell” God’s newness during the season about to break upon upon us? How will God shock us and upset us? We have seen that Jesus’ advertising strategy sells us nothing new, but more of the old; it awakens, evokes, our desire for the New.

The passage of Isaiah is one of the most outrageous advertisements of God’s Newness, a newness that, like Jesus’ Kingdom of God, is always already and to come if we but know where to look, put faith where it belongs, and do what we are commanded to do. And here we see the other element of advertising; the idea that what is being presented is so outrageous, so out of touch with our reality, so absurd to our financial sensibilities that we cannot help ourselves but desire what the advertisement is trying to tell us we want more than anything else. And the most effective ads even cause us to contemplate doing anything, even sacrificing whatever we have or who we believe we are, in order to have what it wants us to have.

What is God’s ad here? Let this sink in, and let it inform our Holiday sensibility here, especially with Thanksgiving, and Advent, and Christmas. There will be a new earth, a new Jerusalem. Not a repackaging in better boxes of what is already there; but utter newness of the earth and the heart of the people of God’s calling. There will no longer be the sound of weeping or tears of sadness. There won’t be any homeless, nor will there be those oppressed or terrorized by life today to cry out for still more deliverance. There will be rejoicing and thanksgiving, because in God’s new world there will not be any infant mortality or elderly men and women outliving their lives or widows or young men who die in war, for there will no longer be wars fought. There will be rejoicing and thanksgiving because there will no longer be the outrage of eminent domain or foreclosures on homes, and those who build will live; those who plant will reap, and those who harvest will eat and have abundance. The big will no longer consume the small, and all will live under their own vine and fig tree.

Is the Advertisement of God’s newness in Isaiah, the Advent of abundance, blessing, thanksgiving, and gratitude, too much to hope for? Isn’t it worth selling ourselves out to God’s newness, to be seduced by this advertisement, to make this an Always Already and speed up the To Come?

Advent and Thanksgiving are both upon us. May we share our abundance in the spirit of newness, and may our Thanksgiving be an advertisement to that which we, as people of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, have always already, and may our expectation of his coming stir in us and in those who know us, a new season of Hope. And Life. And faithful abundance.

A Long Time Ago, in an Empire Far, Far Away….

It is a time of relative peace. With the legions of armies maintaing the new Order from Britain to Babylon, the Sith Lords have secured the mantle of civilization under the cloak of absolute power.

Augustus Palpatine

But a small group of freedom fighters, led by John of Patmos, have joined in the resistance to the Dark Lord and his evil enforcer, Darth Caesar.

Darth DomitianObi John Kenobi

Committed to overturning the Order of the Sith and ushering in the Empire of God, the Jedi and their followers throughout the Province of Asia band around a newly discovered secret book, while their leader has mysteriously disappeared…

Obi John Kenobi in Exile ms-1214-f090v-colour.jpg

Seraph“Cypher, the Matrix isn’t real!”

“Oh, I disagree, Trinity; I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.”

Lately, I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading in memory and social theory, and I’ve been working my way through Berger and Luckmann’s The Social Construction of Reality. The thoughts here are inspired by Berger and Luckmann’s work from 40 years ago, but I’ve taken the liberty of combining them with some of my recent work on the book of Revelation and with the Wachowski Brothers’ trilogy of Matrix films.

Berger and Luckmann argued that practically from birth, what we understand to be “real” is a social construction that is imposed on us through a variety of instruments of the dominant culture of the world that we find ourselves in. When that dominant culture ultimately has the power to impose its cultural perspective (or worldview) on other ones, and proceeds to do so, the result is a programmatic presentation of “the real” that says “our” reality, whatever it is, is the ultimate one, and this by necessity must replace any alternative ones. In other words, once a culture establishes a hegemony over others that would not normally be inclined to share, appreciate, or employ the instruments that the culture uses to construct reality at home, it is in a position to say to everyone else that the way we are is the way everyone should be. This kind of imperialism doesn’t have to be through military force or violence against earth, air, and flesh (although it can be, and often is); more pervasive and dangerous is the seductive nature of the instruments of cultural imperialism. Violence and seduction are, and have always been, two of the most potent agents of social control and the imposition of “reality.”

To viewers of the Matrix, this should sound familiar, and one wonders whether the Wachowski Brothers had a copy of Social Construction of Reality around when they produced the films. The entire trilogy turns on the questions of What is Real, and What is the Matrix? In the trilogy, we learn that the Matrix is the reality constructed by the dominant Machine World that, through violence and seduction, is imposed on the world of human beings in order for the Machine World to maintain its hegemony and its control of human life. Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, recognizes that there are at least these two realities, and he challenges Neo (Keanu Reeves) to recognize that he has to choose which reality he is going to accept, since both are Real. In Berger and Luckmann’s terms, the Machine World is able to force its worldview, its reality, onto the Human through the instrumentality of the Matrix. For those living in the Machine World, the majority of humans do not realize that their reality is artificial and constructed and have no need for or interest in knowing otherwise. The dominant culture of technocracy, as it were, has defined what is real and literally constructed the instruments to make sure that things stay the way they are. Theirs is the “ultimate reality,” as Tillich might express it.

In any event, the story of the Matrix is that the reality imposed by the dominant Machine World is not the only reality, and in fact needs to be challenged because the human race is not destined to be batteries and puppets that empower the force of empire and its artificial instruments of violence and seduction to keep control over those who resist.

And if this sounds like a familiar story, you’re right. This is exactly the story of the book of Revelation. Revelation is a call to see the Matrix for what it is and an invitation to look behind the screen to see the ugliness of the reality of its version of the Machine World, that is to say, the Empire, the violence of the Beast and the seductions of the Whore that are the instruments of imperial worldviews of reality. For the author of Revelation, the Roman Empire is the latest version of the Matrix, an artificially constructed reality that had plagued Israel in a number of x.0 versions since the days of Egyptian bondage. But as with the theatrical Matrix, Revelation recognizes the reality of the Empire/Machine world every bit as much as it recognizes the world of the Saints/Zion. Both realities exist and coexist and join together through complex processes of mimicry and symbiosis and are locked in a struggle that simultaneously defends and destroys the other. The Matrix and the Empire are paragons of the power and order of the Machine World and the dominant force of Imperialism in all its forms. The heroes of Zion and the persevering Saints of first century Asia, on the other hand, recognize the reality of the Matrix of Empire, but refuse to accommodate themselves to imperial control; for Morpheus, Neo, Trinity, John of Patmos, Christ, and the embattled saints of Asia, imperial reality is a Beast operating the machine mainframe, a reality that ultimately will lead to nothing but the utter destruction and annihilation of this world as well as the other. Revelation and The Matrix thus show that these competing worlds exist in symbiotic opposition to each other, but are not condemned to eternal conflict. As the Oracle tells Neo, “One way or another, Neo, the war is going to end.”

The story, of course, continues now. The Matrix of Empire is a constructed instrument of persuasion designed to convince others that the pax romana and pax americana is the ordained and one legitimate ultimate reality. But Revelation and the Matrix show us that, confronted with the reality of imperial pax, we who were called out of Egypt now need to be called out of Babylon, out of the power fields of the Machine world. And here in the Matrix, there are too many who know that something is seriously wrong with the seductive doings of empire, who know that we ourselves are complicit in the violence done to the earth and to each other in the name of maintaining things “as it was was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever more.” We feel the splinter in the mind and its driving us mad. And if we are truly to come out of Babylon, as the Seer of Revelation cries out to us that we must, we have to take the plunge, and find the courage to take the Red Pill, and hack into the Matrix.